ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - At least seven people were killed and 42 hurt in a stampede during an anti-government protest in the Pakistani city of Multan on Friday, a hospital official said.
Pakistan has been in crisis since August when protesters led by Imran Khan, a former cricket star, and Tahir ul-Qadri, a firebrand cleric, stormed into the capital and occupied an area of government buildings and foreign embassies.
The protests have since waned, but on Friday night, a stampede occurred when people tried to leave during a speech by Khan in the city in Multan.
“A total of seven dead bodies have been brought in and 42 were injured due to a stampede after a PTI procession,” said Parvez Haider, Director of Emergency at Nistar Hospital, referring to a rally held by opposition politicial Imran Khan.
The persistent protests have become an embarrassment for Sharif in a coup-prone nation, with some in the prime minister’s administration accusing the powerful army of instigating the movement as a way of weakening Sharif.
The army has denied meddling in civilian affairs, saying it is neutral, but in a country ruled for half of its history by the military, most commentators agree it is ultimately up to the army to decide how the crisis ends.
The protest leaders accuse Sharif of rigging last year’s election which brought him back to power in a landslide, a charge he denies.
The confrontation turned violent last month, with thousands trying to storm Sharif’s house in the capital Islamabad and briefly taking the state television channel off the air.
Unrest in Pakistan is a worry to regional powers who are concerned about more political violence in a country bordering Afghanistan, where most foreign troops are due to leave this year following more than a decade of war against the Taliban.
Writing by Maria Golovnina, Editing by Angus MacSwan